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The Steins Collect: Matisse, Picasso, and the Parisian Avant-Garde edited by Janet Bishop, Cécile Debray, and Rebecca Rabinow

June 2012, no. 342

Despite its unrewarding title, The Steins Collect, both exhibition and catalogue, tells the most captivating story of early modern art and its patronage. The cast of characters ranges from the downright difficult (Leo) and the overweeningly self-important (Gertrude) to sunny Californian idealists (Sarah and Michael). Gertrude and her brother Leo set up their joint ménage at 27 rue de Fleurus, close to the Luxembourg Gardens, in 1903. A year later, Michael, their elder brother, and his wife, Sarah, settled in Paris and lived close by at 58 rue Madame. By 1909 the two households had assembled the largest and finest collection of Matisse and Picasso anywhere. Though comfortably off, the Steins were not remotely among the super-rich, yet only the Russian collectors, Sergei Shchukin and Ivan Morozov, at the end of the decade, would challenge their supremacy.

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David Walsh is a tease; he enjoys wordplay. The founder and owner of the Museum of Old and New Art (he prefers Mona, not MONA) concedes that his private playground is entirely a matter of self-gratification, like ‘the sin of Onan’. Hence the cheeky titles ‘Monanism’ for his inaugural exhibition of some 460 works, and Monanisms for the beautifully pr ...